Since Jon Gruden joined the Raiders on a 10-year, $100 million deal to become the team’s head coach, bit by bit we saw signs he was calling shots. You could figure that would be the case with a contract like that, but only to the extent that you not allow yourself to be surprised when it happens.
Mark Davis even said that it was Gruden’s team to build the way he wanted and that McKenzie was tasked with finding a way to make it happen. A facilitator, as I have termed it.
“Jon’s the head coach and he’s going to be here a while, so it’s important that he gets the players he wants and builds a team he wants to build,” Davis said at the owner’s meetings in March. “Reggie McKenzie is there with his staff to find the players and also keep the [salary] cap and everything else in order. . .
“He as built the team to where we are now and we’re in pretty good shape with the [salary] cap and everything else. Now he has a head coach who’s going to be running this thing for the next ten years. His vision is going to be most important to building what type of team we’ve got.”
That seemed a pretty clear message of the hierarchy with the team.
First it was free agency, when the Raiders ousted a great many players, whether by cutting them, trading them, or allowing them to leave as free agents, and signing some 23 free agents. There is no question these players had Gruden’s name all over them.
Gone was Cordarrelle Patterson who despite his special teams abilities, didn’t run sharp routes as a receiver. Gone was Jamize Olawale who was more of a receiving type fullback and Gruden wanted a bruising fullback. And of course, gone was the polarizing personalities of Marquette King and Michael Crabtree.
This continued in the draft. And perhaps even ramped up, according to a report from Mike Freeman of Bleacher Report.
Since joining the Raiders in January, Gruden has quietly consolidated power to the point where he’s effectively the head coach, general manager, CEO and just about everything else. No other coach in the NFL has this kind of power outside of Belichick.
Yes, Gruden has effectively replaced Reggie McKenzie as the GM, a team source says.
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What’s surprised some in the Raiders organization is the scope and speed of the takeover. While Gruden and McKenzie have publicly stated they are in agreement on personnel moves, the truth is that Gruden has made practically all of them since his return.
Gruden has the final say on all personnel matters, the team source explained. That’s become clear to all in the organization.
The usual stand pat, don’t make any aggressive moves of Reggie McKenzie changed to collecting picks, using those picks to maneuver up and down the draft to get the players they targeted. In many cases honing on on certain players and not allowing the results of the draft to shape their decisions.
This meant settling for poor compensation in a first round trade down (3rd and 5th), shipping one of those picks (79 overall) to Pittsburgh for troubled receiver Martavis Bryant, overpaying to trade up (picks 152 and 212) ten spots in the third round for a small school tackle with sketchy production, and even moving up just two spots (89 to 87) later in the round to draft Arden Key — another player with character concerns.
Character concerns were something McKenzie steered clear of on the first two days of the draft and in free agency, with a few notable exceptions (Aldon Smith).
Now the Raiders are functioning like the Raiders of old. Signing players with serious character flags and run-ins with the law. First it was CB Daryl Worley, who was arrested on several counts in mid April including DUI, resisting arrest, and possessing a firearm — in the week leading up the draft. Then trading for Martavis Bryant who failed a reported SIX drug tests and was suspended the entire 2016 season. And then drafting Arden Key who left his LSU team for four months last offseason for “personal reasons” and then showed up overweight and his production declined in 2017.
Even Gruden’s mom could see it was her son making the calls, albeit channeling Al Davis.
“My mom called, she said that maybe Mr Davis was calling the picks down from heaven,” Gruden said after day two of the draft. “It’s a philosophy that I have, it’s a philosophy that I learned here. Bigger guys can be a good thing. Faster can be better.”
We saw this coming. Many welcomed it. Outside of the 2014 draft, McKenzie’s draft strategy was simply not working. He made some big time investments in free agency that paid off, but those days are over. He deconstructed the team to build it back up and had the salary floor to hit.
Gruden is the guy now. He is Bill Belichick for the Raiders for better or worse. And we won’t know which it will be for a couple years. Settle in.